Wofford College celebrates Founder's Day on Thursday, Oct. 19, the 226th birthday of the founder of the college, the Rev. Benjamin Wofford. Below is an essay about the Rev. Wofford, written by Wofford archivist Phillip Stone, a member of the Wofford Class of 1991:
Back in 1888, at the laying of the cornerstone of Alumni Hall, John B. Cleveland gave an address on the life and character of the Reverend Benjamin Wofford. “Plain, simple, unostentatious, thus he worked from day to day,” Cleveland wrote. Yet, as Benjamin Wofford grew older, he became more misunderstood. “His thrift was called avarice, his economy, selfishness, his business exactness, meanness. And yet, let us suppose he was not all of these. Would we be here today?” Cleveland suggested another way that Benjamin Wofford could have lived. He could have lived well on his small fortune, with a nice carriage, fine food, expensive clothes, and a fancy home. For him, the true greatness of Benjamin Wofford is that he did not choose this type of life.
Born on Oct. 19, 1780, Benjamin Wofford grew up in the backcountry in the early days of the Republic. His father, Joseph, was a captain in the Revolutionary War. His mother, Martha Llewellyn Wofford, was responsible for his eventual religious awakening. He rode a Methodist circuit as a lay exhorter in 1806 and 1807 in western Kentucky, but soon returned to South Carolina in that year to marry Anna Todd. With the death of her father in 1809, he inherited control of the Todd family farm in the southern part of Spartanburg County. Ordained in 1814, he served as an itinerant for only three years. The life of the traveling minister making it difficult to run a farm, he ceased to be a traveling preacher in 1820.
A year after the death of Anna Todd Wofford in 1835, he married Maria Barron. His business interests and their diminished enthusiasm for rural life led them to move to the village, at the corner of present-day Magnolia and St. John Streets. There he continued to invest conservatively and live simply until his death on December 2, 1850.
Wofford’s will provided $100,000 for the establishment of a college for literary, classical, and scientific education in Spartanburg, to be under the control and management of the state’s Methodist Conference. Maria Wofford was unhappy that she got less than one-eighth of an estate worth about $150,000, but she did not challenge the will.
Within four years of Benjamin Wofford’s death, the trustees he named took the money he bequeathed, secured a charter, bought land, built a college and five houses for professors, hired a faculty, and opened its doors. One of the early students was John B. Cleveland, who gave us the words that I began with.
Cleveland urged his to follow Ben’s example of self-denial so that they too might be able to leave something lasting behind. “If you cannot imitate Ben Wofford in all things, imitate his thrift, his economy.” “Have some ambition to live after you are dead, to benefit others after you are gone.”
We are indeed fortunate that Benjamin Wofford practiced a life of thrift and self-denial that generations of us might work and study in a place like this.
Phillip Stone ’91, College Archivist